Monday, August 26, 2013

Death Threats Over Affleck Casting: An Editorial by Jarys Maragopoulos


That's how I feel about the news of death threats made toward Ben Affleck out of the "Man of Steel" Facebook page  They write that:

"It’s quite another, and totally unwarranted, to message death threats to the page admins over it. make a threat of violence against any person is completely unacceptable and it diminishes the credibility of ALL superhero genre fans and dismisses you all into a non-relevant “lunatic” category. ...have turned off private messaging this morning. We have no plans of when it might be turned back on again. If you don’t like a casting choice, please find respectful ways, non-violent ways of expressing it."

I agree with the page moderators wholeheartedly; these posts degrade not only our (fans) image, but our self-image as well. I find it increasingly difficult to proudly identify with a group when I know that the image conjured by that group's name is one of unreasonable fervor and violent anger. Such calls to murder someone (over a MOVIE) send a sobering hush through the community and it is no surprise to me that the page moderators have disabled their portion of the conversation giving lifeblood of the internet: anonymous or near anonymous comments. Someone has poisoned the well and the whole edifice has to be blocked off while the powers-that-be and fans alike hope that the contagion settles once again to the inky depths. We look at one another embarrassed, muttering "I wouldn't have said that, I'm not like that. Who's like that? No true geek would say a thing like that." 

But they did. 


The term fan comes from "fanatic", meaning a person with an extreme or uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics"  And fanatics we appear to be, to those who do not call themselves nerds or geek, who do not offer an understanding based on mutual experience. I do not know any in our circles who fulfill the true meaning of this word, we are more likely devoted than extreme, enthusiastic but not uncritical, not without reason or compassion.  But those I know could easily speak much more "fanatically" when given the protective anonymity of the web (a la John Gabriel's Greater Fuckwad Theory) and I do not know a purely representative sample of our population. I can say I am disgusted, and cast such judgments, but I am not going to say that these people are not fans, are not geeks, are not like me. They are like me, they like the same things, they go online and talk about them, just as I do. We are in the same group, in a manner of speaking, the "fan" group. That's the problem.....and also a possible solution. 

Despite the discomfort it brings me to associate with people who bring "fan" back to its root meaning, there is a rough but not zero chance that things I say within the geeky domain may reach them. I know that the things I type here will reach their peers, others in the Geeky phylum. I have a blog, a podcast. I have friends I respect who are looking over this post and giving me feedback.With the mouthpiece comes responsibility, not only to those with whom I am working  (to not embarrass them) but to my audience (small but really appreciated). I have a means to communicate and effect the conversation, and I hope to do so (obviously, As I'm posting this). I may not be able to wax eloquent on the level of the writers to whose fandom I belong, but I can take a crack at it.

To those issuing the death threats, meet me at camera three: 
I understand. I do. No, he doesn't look much like what we commonly think of as "Bruce Wayne". Yeah, it's a bit of a shocker. but you know what? Keep perspective. No amount of casting decisions, movie deals, or any other marketing tie in is EVER going to take Batman away from you. Batman is going to stay Batman as long as you keep up the perception of whatever Batman is. Your idea of him, your love of him, is entirely between you and that ephemeral fiction. Batman isn't a person but an idea, an idea you have bought into. Congrats, you OWN Batman. But keep perspective, you only own the character within the inner world of your own head, the same way we all do. Outside of your personal opinions, thoughts, feelings, and fantasies, you have to share in the fandom with all of us. And some of us like Ben Affleck, so keep that in mind. None of our "ownership" of the things we love is anymore important than anyone else's, externally. Internally, go nuts. Make a fan fiction. Draw fan art of Batman doing something horrendously violent to Ben Affleck. Just don't expect us to agree with you. Don't expect us to stand by what you are expressing under the banner of free speech, free speech also means the freedom to critique as well as the freedom to ignore. 

And finally, because it is the most important, keep perspective on murder. This is a person's life. No character, no story, no philosophy, no religion, no idea is worth killing for. Yeah, the threat isn't the same thing as doing it. But it is the same thing as saying you want to, and that shows an incredible lack of perspective. It makes you look like a fanatic. It makes us all look like fanatics. 

Ok, back to the normal camera setup.

One of my pet terms for fanatics is "Zealots". I am a big believer that any sufficiently large and interconnected group based around an idea will include some zealots. What is important, I also believe, is how a group deals with its zealots. Do they cower behind the loud voices, letting the outspoken minority represent the whole group? Do they ignore their zealots, professing the "No True Scotsman" fallacy when outsiders try to point them to the misdeeds of their fellows? It is important to me that we do none of these things. You can't teach reasonableness unless you are reasonable in the lesson. You cannot teach compassion unless you are compassionate in the teaching. You cannot teach humility to zealots by putting yourself above zealots, sniffing a self congratulatory "I'm the only sane person in the world" through your nose. I know I sometimes fail to be humble in this way, and no one who knows me can say that I am a master of logic. I often hope I can spread enough compassion around to make up for the deficit. But compassion isn't enough. I need others in geekdom to help smooth this message over, to boost the signal. If you see zealous behavior, please do not ignore it, do not blindly agree with what their saying if their tactics disturb you. Say something. Let them know true fanaticism, zealotry is unacceptable.I appreciate it. 

Since I have you all on the line, let me tell you why I am looking forward to the Ben Affleck Batman. Mister Affleck, please meet me at camera three:

Hi....I really liked Argo. Can you tell Kevin I am getting off topic. 

Many people protested Heath Ledger as the Joker. Is it hyperbole to say that his performance is considered the best portrayal of the character on any screen in live action? It is quite safe to say that he is loved for that performance and was a defining contribution to the greatness of the film, The Dark Knight. An actor's past does not constrain, should not constrain, their future output. I do not expect you, Mister Affleck to follow Heath Ledge's act, that's a tall order. But I know you will do your best, because you love film, I know you love the character, and I know you are a talented actor. I loved your work in (running backwards) Argo, The Town, Smoking Aces, Paycheck, The Sum of All Fears, Boiler Room, Reindeer Games, Dogma, Phantoms, Shakespeare in Love, Good Will Hunting.....and I'm running out of room. You are in not my favorite actor, but I know you know how to do your bloody job, and do it effectively. I am curious to see what you bring to the character.

Also, I sympathize, over the death threats [edit: I have since learned that the death threats were also directed at the moderators, and so I am addressing them here as well]. I hope these comments have not completely discouraged you from engaging with other comic book fans (other in that I understand you are one yourself). What I REALLY hope is that you are not afraid. If there is something I learned from Batman as a kid, it is that fear is not a toy to be wielded carelessly and thoughtlessly. Those typing out the death threats have forgotten that, in that action using fear as a one of the Dark Knight's antagonists would, to lash out in expression of their anger. Our comic book hero is undaunted because he understands that fear is of the mind and is no more able to conquer his will than his costumed antagonists. 

But what am I saying? You are going to be Batman. You know this already.

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